The Impact of the 1883 Municipal Corporations Act

  • Brian Rothwell

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The aim of this thesis is to contribute an un-researched strand to the analysis of local government reform in the nineteenth century. The 1883 Municipal Corporations Act (MCA) has not attracted the attention of historians. It was a minor local government statute; the objective being to sweep away a rump of 110 undemocratic borough corporations in small market towns.
The 1883 MCA had a differing impact on these ancient corporations. It forced twenty-eight of them to reform and allowed three more to remain in existence but stripped them of municipal powers. Four more towns were specifically granted permission to elect an ‘honorary’ mayor but that position held no municipal responsibilities. In addition, seventy-six corporations were summarily abolished on or before 29 September 1886.
In thirty-one of these abolished boroughs, the corporations owned no property or trading rights; in the other forty-five, however, they did. In eight of these towns, their corporation’s assets and rights were transferred into local government bodies and they were subsumed into the county, district and parish councils established by the Local Government Acts of 1888 and 1894.
In the remaining thirty-seven towns, charitable trusts were created as the repositories for the assets and rights of their abolished corporations. It is these trusts that are the focus of this thesis. They were created as charities and they possess public assets; the third (voluntary) sector therefore owning what should be (in today’s terms) in the second (public) sector.
With the creation of parish councils shortly after their foundation, these trusts quickly became a halfway house between the undemocratic ancient borough corporation and the full local democracy that was introduced at parish level in 1895. Their structure is ‘semi-democratic’, with both elected councillor involvement but also volunteers acting as co-opted trustees. There is no accountability to the tiers of local government; they report to the Charity Commission.
It is these ambiguities that have caused, and in some cases still cause, local governance problems in the some of the towns affected. The 1883 MCA has had a long reach; thirty-five of these charitable trusts still exist and they are having a differing impact on the local governance of the towns concerned. Thie aim of this thesis is to establish what that impact has been and what it is is today.
Date of Award17 Sep 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorMark Allen (Supervisor) & Colin Haydon (Supervisor)

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